Thursday, September 29, 2011

Suddenly, I found myself panicking, sweating and standing on a street corner in Samos, Greece, with a 20 Euro bill in my hand, trying to hitchhike my way into town.

This is my story.

With an hour to go before the ferry boat returned to Kuşadası, our kind waitress told my girl friend and I, there were no taxis or buses today. Sheryl had just finished a cappuccino freddo, and I was only half-way done with my second very well-chilled Mythos beer at Gregory’s Bar, located near the Pythagorio port.

This cappuccino freddo was addictive!
“What? You’re kidding right?” I said.

“No. There’s a 48-hour strike. No taxis. No buses,” she responded. (Note: she was right. See online article here.)

“You’re still kidding, right?” I said as I started to panic. I still didn’t comprehend this as we had just traveled from Samos to Patmos less than two days ago. No problems.
A view of the port of Pythagorio before we pulled into dock.
We rushed around the corner, dragging our suitcases, and approached the jeweler where Sheryl had purchased a pair of earrings minutes earlier. “You’re my only friend on Samos. Can you help us get to Samos town? We’ll pay you,” she said.

The jeweler conversed in rapid-fire Greek with the women next door. One suggested we might have to wait until the next day. That wouldn’t work – we had a ferry to catch in an hour and then a flight back to Istanbul from Izmir to make the following day, which was today.

A pick-up truck was passing by. I flagged him down. He knew the jeweler as I’m sure just about everybody knows everybody on Samos.

We begged him to take us to the main port in Samos. He said he couldn’t because he was heading to the airport in the opposite direction, but he would drive us up to the main street corner so we could flag somebody else down. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers so far!

The next thing I know, we’re unloading our rolling suitcases out of the back of his pick-up, standing on a street corner in Samos and waving to every car that passes by. There we were – two crazed, blond American women stranded on a Greek island.

Sheryl decided to see whether she could rent a car or hire someone from a travel agency while I kept standing on the street corner. Several cars drove by, looked at me and shook their heads ‘no.’

‘Please take pity on us and help us,’ I kept thinking as I waved the 20 Euro bill in my hand. Surely, somebody would take the money and help us.

This whole scenario played out for only 20 minutes when Sheryl waved to me and said she found someone who would drive us. That’s when I started crying. I was relieved.

A young gentleman, a German of Greek and Australian ancestry if I recall correctly, who had just gotten off work, loaded our suitcases and our frazzled selves into his white compact car. I plopped down in the front seat where I kept shedding tears and sniffling.

“There’s no reason to cry. We still have plenty of time,” he reassured me.

I couldn’t help it. Sometimes when I get stressed out, I cry.

The car ride, which only took about 15 minutes or so, went by in a blur for me. Sheryl and I conversed with this kind stranger about our lives in Istanbul and inquired about life in Samos. He told us the strikes make it very difficult for life on the island, both for residents and for the tourists, and it’s not the first time it has happened.

(Apparently, there is another Greek general strike planned for Oct. 5. Really? I did a Google search of transportation strikes in Greece, and they really do happen quite frequently. As if it really solves anything!)

A few things we learned from our gracious stranger:
  • His father owns some vineyards where he makes his own wine and sells the grapes. Samos wine is very well-known in the area. We passed the 100-year-old winery where the grapes are processed.
  • The island is very quiet about six months out of the year. “You work really hard for those six months and hope you make enough money to get through the rest of the year,” he told us.
  • Samos does get cold during the winter months. Then, snow even covers the peaks of two of the island’s largest mountains, the rough and rocky Kerketeus with a height of 1,443 meters and Ambelos with a height of 1,160 meters.
  • The high mountains contribute to the many rainfalls that occur on the island in the wintertime.
  • There are several ancient ruin sites, beaches and monasteries that are worth coming back to visit. Since Turkey is fairly close to the island, maybe that’s a possibility down the road. (See: things to do on Samos.
Here you can see some Greek ruins in the background behind the military
boats that happened to be stationed at the port of Pythagorio. 
I can only imagine how this situation would have gone down if no one spoke English.

Once at the Samos port, the three of us shook hands. We paid the young man and thanked him profusely for his help. We made it to our ferry boat with 15 minutes to spare. Of course, we had to wait in line and then were hassled a bit by the passport control folks.

Note to self: return to Samos someday as long as a transportation strike doesn’t prevent you from getting there!
This is a view nearby the port of Samos, where we caught the ferry boat back to Turkey.
I took the photo from the rooftop bar on Hotel Samos. There is
an abandoned, old Catholic Church on the left side.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The alarm buzzed at 6:45 a.m. I did not want to get out of bed just yet, but I got up anyway and peaked outside our hotel room’s window.

Perfect! Just a few minutes left to capture the sunrise in Patmos.
I tried to get the best picture just off of our balcony at the gorgeous Petra Hotel & Suites.
I’m surprised by how fast the light changes. Dark pinks, pale purples and oranges soon fade. And then, look what popped into my view.
A large cruise shipping heading into the port.
And then the cruise ship turned around the corner. I’m sure it’s getting to dock at Skala so the tourists can visit Patmos for the day. Patmos is a popular destination for tourists because of the Monastery of St. John, the UNESCO village of Hora and its idyllic beaches.
I still have so much to learn about using the correct f-stops and ISOs to capture the best picture.
Enjoying the sunrise on Patmos was a wonderful way to start the day!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

After five hours on two ferry boats, one bus ride, one taxi fare and running to catch the last boat, we finally arrived on the Greek island of Patmos just as the fiery-orange sun was setting.
Beautiful sunset as we were getting ready to dock at Patmos, Greece.
My first impression of this difficult-to-reach island in the Aegean Sea is tranquil. In fact, last night, the sound of chirping crickets, a lone barking dog and the rustling sea breeze were the only sounds I heard. 
No honking horns. 
No shouting people. 
No mosque calls (which I don’t generally mind but sometimes do wake me up.) You could even see the stars up in the night sky.
Skala, is the main village on Patmos, where the port is located.
One of the northernmost islands of the Dodecanese complex, Patmos has a population of 2,984 and an area of 34.05 km² (13 square miles).

I am traveling with a fellow American friend Sheryl, of The Altered Passport, whom also lives in Istanbul. She has long been interested in coming here because Patmos is mentioned in the Christian scriptural Book of Revelation.

Two sites on today’s agenda:  the monastery of St. John and the Grotto of St. John, whom was exiled to Patmos from Ephesus, Turkey, in 95 A.D. St. John the Theologian lived in this cave on Patmos, where he reporedly recorded his divine visions in the Book of Revelations in the Bible.

I’m sure we’ll see some amazing sites today, and I’ll write about them soon.

Iyi yolculuklar!

How to reach Patmos from Turkey:
A ferry from Kuşadası to Samos runs daily departing at 8:30 a.m., until Oct. 31, this year. The daily ferries resume again in April, from what I understand.

From Samos, you must take a second ferry boat, running regularly on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only through Oct. 1, to reach Patmos. For more information, click here.
This is the ferry boat we ran to catch at Samos. We were nearby, but it
looked like the boat was pulling away. Nope, the crew just had some
issues with trying to dock the boat. =)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sitting by the southern port in Samos, Greece, and I am enjoying a pint of Mythos.

This week, I have a rare chance to travel without my husband on a girl trip. He's working and I get to play for 3.5 days. Today, we traveled from Kusadasi by ferry to Samos, and we are waiting to take a second ferry to the island of Patmos, a small island in the Aegean Sea. This island is where St. John wrote the book of Revelations and Patmos is even mentioned in the Bible. Tomorrow we plan to see some of the historical sites.

In the photo,  you might notice the British flag flying on this boat docked nearby.

Stay tuned for the rest of this adventure.!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

This morning, I went to the pazar in Beşiktaş and was happy to see mandalina (mandarins) and Meyer Lemons return.

I bought a kilo of each citrus, and we enjoyed some fresh mandalina segments for breakfast. Look for them now at your local market!

Afiyet olsun!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Since I’ve been on a roll with baking this week, I decided to make some cherry pies.

The other day I snapped up these late-harvest vişne (sour cherries) at a manav while visiting Büyükada.
Beautifully summer red sour cherries!
One bite of these Turkish vişne and it reminded me of the sour cherries trees in my backyard while growing up in Nebraska. Being the little monkey that I was, I would climb up in the trees and sit among the branches, plucking off the cherries and eating them one by one. My mom and maternal grandmother also would can dozens of jars with these cherries to last throughout the winter.

Cherry pie is an all-American classic dessert - a necessity in the summertime! It wasn’t difficult to make this recipe with Turkish ingredients as everything was fairly similar. However, how I decided to mold the pies turned out to be a real pain!

Last year, I received this cute, plastic pie mold as a wedding present. Something I never used until now because I never had the time when I was working full-time in the U.S. Well, it might be the last time I use it because making these individual pies were a pain in the butt! The mold is easy to use, but my pies didn’t seal all the way so the cherry juices came oozing out while baking in the oven.

Maybe I’ll try again down the road as I don’t give up easily. But for now, I’ll share the cherry pie filling recipe with you. Let me know what you decide to create with your Turkish vişne.

Afiyet Olsun!
At least these cherry pies sure look cute! Hubby approved and ate his serving with
 my homemade peach ice cream. Meanwhile, I enjoyed mine for breakfast.
Vişne (Sour Cherry) Pie Filling

70 ml. (2.5 oz.) cold water
30 g. (3.5 T.) mısır nişastası (cornstarch)
825 g. (29 oz.) vişne (sour cherries), rinsed and pitted (Note: I purchased 1 kilo, but this is the amount I ended up with after I destemmed and pitted the cherries.)
210 ml. (7.5 oz.) water
230 g. (8 oz.) vanilla sugar or plain granulated sugar
1 T. fresh lemon juice
25 g. (-1 oz.) butter

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the cold water and cornstarch together. Set aside.
2. Place the water in a medium-sized saucepot. Bring to a boil. Whisk in the starch mixture. Return to a boil. (This happens rather quickly.)
3. Add the sugar, lemon juice and butter. Simmer until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has thickened.
The mixture will look like this and boil very quickly.
4. You may have some starch lumps so you can strain the mixture, using a metal sieve. Then pour the hot syrup over the the cherries and mix gently, using a rubber spatula.
5. Let the cherries cool completely before adding to your pie shells.
Just a spoonful of cherries.
This filling also could be used and served alongside cheesecake or as a topping for ice cream.

Or use your favorite pie dough recipe and make a large cherry pie or individual ones like I did below.

After cutting out star shapes from your pie dough, place 1 star in the mold with
1+ Tablespoon of the cherry pie filling.
Place a second star, with a ventilation cut-out, on top. Slightly press down to seal
the edges. Then press the mold together, clamping down, to seal tightly.
Place your finished stars on a baking sheet. Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes
so the dough has time to chill. Brush an egg wash over the top of each star.
Bake at 400 F/200 C for about 20 minutes or until the edges are
golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Remove from the trays shortly after
removing from the oven or they will stick if any filling has oozed out.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Not to scare you away immediately, but this recipe takes several hours to make.

However, you will be rewarded with a flaky, melt-in-your-mouth, fruit-filled pastry. If you use store-bought jam instead of homemade, you save yourself a few hours of prep work.

Yesterday, I sent a box full of these incir ve fındık pasta (fig and hazelnut pastry) to my husband’s office. Rave reviews as usual. =)

This pastry is actually a type of rugelach (also known as Rogelach), which is a rolled cookie with Jewish origins. Rugelach, which literally means “little twists” in Yiddish, has Jewish Ashkenazic (Polish) origins. In Europe, bakers originally made the dough with yeast; but later Jewish-American bakers introduced a cream cheese-based rugelach dough. At Zabar’s in NYC, I could buy rugelach filled with chocolate or stuffed with cinnamon and raisins.

At my first pastry job in Kansas, we used to fill our rugelach with cinnamon-sugar, walnuts and raisins. At home, I would take some of the leftover scrap dough and make mine with raspberry jam and chocolate chips. Since then, I’ve also used the cream cheese dough as the base for my fall and Thanksgiving pecan tarts at the restaurants I’ve worked at and my home.

I first was inspired to make this pastry after recently tasting something similar at a pastane on Büyükada. The concept was good, but the resulting pastry was dry and bland. I knew my version would be much better. I don’t understand why the majority of Turkish pastries are so dry unless you just want to dunk them in your çay.
These may look tasty, but the pastry part is very dry, unfortunately.
First order of business, make homemade fig jam. I overcooked the first batch, so I threw it out and started over. The second batch turned out perfect! Making jam is a great way to use up mushy fruit. The general idea is to use 1:1 ratio of fruit and sugar, but I think that’s too sweet. Instead, I do 2 parts fruit to 1 part sugar for jam I just want to store in the refrigerator.

Secondly, make the cream cheese dough, and I easily adapted my recipe with krem peynir. This simple dough only requires 3 ingredients! Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for awhile before you roll it out.

Because I am used to working in a professional kitchen, I measured my rolled out rectangle of dough exactly - 7” in width and then cut into 6”-wide triangles. You could easily just eye ball the dough to cut your triangles. Or here is a different, but helpful tutorial on how to make traditional rugelach.

Whatever you call these scrumptious pastries - pasta, rugelach or even cookies, you will love them and so will your friends.

Afiyet Olsun!
Perfectly paired with an afternoon tea.
Incir ve Fındık Pasta (Fig and Hazelnut Pastry or Rugelach)

Incir Reçeli/Fig Jam
500 g. fresh figs, cut into quarters or smaller if the figs are larger
250 g. sugar
½ -1 juice of a lemon
1 ea. cinnamon stick

1. Place the ingredients in a small/medium-sized saucepot, cover and let stand overnight at room temperature.
2. Place the pot over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
3. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cook over very low heat (about 3 on my flattop) for 45 minutes or longer until the jam is thickened and sticky. Remove the cinnamon stick. At this point, I roughly blended my jam with the immersion hand blender for a smoother consistency. Alternatively, mash the figs with a fork or potato masher to break them up.
4. You might need to let the jam cook a bit longer, making sure it is set. To test when jam/jelly is at its setting point, check out this link.
5. When done cooking, remove the pot from the burner, let cool and seal in a glass jar, placing in the refrigerator.
My fig jam stored in a 1 TL cute, little glass jar.
Cream Cheese Dough/Rugelach Dough
Yields: 48+ cookies

400 g. krem peynir (cream cheese)
535 g. butter, room temperature
700 g. flour

1. In a medium-sized bowl, using a stand mixer or hand blender, cream the krem peynir or cream cheese until smooth.
2. Add the butter and blend again for a few minutes until completely combined.
3. Add the flour and blend just until incorporated.
4. If dough seems a little sticky, add a bit more flour but slightly knead the dough with your hands. Divide the dough into small plastic-wrapped packets (mine yielded 3-500 gram packets) and place in the refrigerator until cooled and slightly stiff, about 1 hour.

Now you are ready to roll out the dough.
You will need:
As needed fig jam
As needed hazelnuts, finely chopped
As needed cinnamon-sugar mixture (Just mix a bit of ground cinnamon with granulated sugar.)
Rolling pin
Knife or pizza cutter

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C.
2. Place one packet of dough on a floured work surface. Roll out the dough into a long rectangle, about 7-inches in width. Trim the dough so you have an even-edged rectangle. Then, using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into triangles every 6 inches.

3. Place about 1 tablespoon of fig jam and a pinch of chopped hazelnuts along the bottom of each triangle.

4. Roll up the sides of dough and lightly pinch the edges down to seal.
5. Continue rolling up each pastry. Then, roll in the cinnamon-sugar and place on a metal baking sheet, seam side down. (Note: The pastries can be frozen at this point and baked later. To do so, place on a tray in the freezer. Once frozen solid, place in a storage container, with each layer separated by baking paper to prevent sticking. They should be baked frozen, not defrosted. Simply add on 5-10 extra minutes when baking.)
Roll the unbaked pastry in the cinnamon-sugar mixture.
6. I leave about a 2-inch space between each pastry to allow for even baking.
Pastries always should be lined up like soldiers in a line
to promote even baking. 
7. Bake the pastries for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned on the edges.
8. Ball up the dough scraps, cover with plastic wrap, place in the refrigerator until chilled again, and then re-roll out the dough. Continue with steps 2-7.